How to grow wheatgrass indoors: Soil vs Soilless

A favorite feature of juice bars, wheatgrass juice has been on the menu of juice joints for many decades after making its debut in the 1970s. But what exactly is it? Wheatgrass is the freshly-sprouted, tender young shoots of the wheat plant, Tritium aestivum, which is, in fact, a grass.

Even if you’re not the juice bar type, you’ve probably seen little pots of “cat grass” in pet stores. This is also wheatgrass and is sold for indoor cats to have a little something to munch on when they have a hankering for grass. Both dogs and cats eat fresh grass to help with digestive issues, and the wheatgrass you grow at home can be offered to pets as a safe alternative to turfgrass, which may have chemicals on it.

The bottom line is that wheatgrass is an extremely nutritious “superfood” that happens to be easy to grow at home. Your DIY wheatgrass grow operation and a small wheatgrass juicer can make it possible for you to have fresh wheatgrass juice on demand whenever you want to add it to smoothies or toss it in with other veggies you’re juicing. 

Close up of Wheatgrass plant growing inside

History of Wheatgrass

Originating in Southwest Asia, wheat has been cultivated alongside human civilization for as long as humans have been farming. Perhaps it is because of this intimate relationship with wheat that wheatgrass has played a symbolic role in many festivals and rituals throughout history. Wheatgrass is used in Persian and Indian rituals during various festivals, as a symbol of vitality and rebirth.

It wasn’t until the 1930s in America that wheatgrass became popular as a food supplement following Charles Schnabel’s discovery that hens could triple their egg production with a diet supplemented with wheatgrass powder. The health benefits of wheatgrass for humans was later developed by Ann Wigmore, who claimed it detoxifies the body and could help to cure cancer. 

Health benefits of Wheatgrass

While the extreme claims of Ann Wigmore have no basis in scientific fact, wheatgrass juice does contain a tremendous number of potent nutrients with known health benefits. Wheatgrass contains 17 amino acids (1) and high levels of chlorophyll–the nutrient that gives plants their green color. Additionally, there are considerable levels of antioxidants found in wheatgrass, including vitamins C and E (2).

While there haven’t been enough studies to prove that wheatgrass cures illness, there are strong clinical indications that it can lower cholesterol levels (3), help to reduce inflammation, and may help regulate blood sugar levels (4). Regardless of its potential benefits, it’s an easy way to add some serious nutrients to your daily juice, and there are no side effects. 

Supplies for growing Wheatgrass

It doesn’t take much more than seeds, potting soil, and a container with some drainage to start growing your own wheatgrass at home.

  • Good wheatgrass seed - If you’re going through the trouble of growing your own wheatgrass, make sure you source some non-GMO, organic seed. Hard winter wheat seed is generally considered the best.
  • Jar or bowl for soaking
  • Containers with drainage holes - You can grow wheatgrass successfully in almost any tray or pot with drainage holes. Trays are ideal because you don’t need much depth and will use less soil in a shallow container. For serious growing, you’ll probably want to invest in planting trays designed for sprouting or microgreens.
  • Growing medium - It is possible to grow wheatgrass in soil, coconut coir, vermiculite, or some type of fiber growing mat.
  • Spray bottles - Opt for the most durable spray bottle you can find, and buy a backup just in case.
  • Liquid kelp fertilizer (optional) - This is useful for growers using soilless methods and can help breathe a little green into wheatgrass that is looking pale.

Wheatgrass growing in trays inside greenhouse

Germination methods

While you can plant winter wheat seeds directly in a growing medium, the simple fact is that sprouting them before you plant them will give better results. The following information is for germinating before planting. 

Soaking

Opinions vary on the best growing methods, but everyone agrees on one thing: you want to pre-soak the seeds before planting. However many seeds you start with, the general rule is to add three times as much water and then leave seeds to soak overnight, for at least 12 hours. When you’ve finished soaking the seeds, give them a good rinse, drain them, and then transfer the seeds to either your growing medium or their sprouting phase.

You can tell that the wheat seeds are sprouting when a small, white “tail” emerges from the grain. Note: some growers advocate three long soaking/draining intervals before planting, as the seeds will certainly have sprouted by the end of such a cycle.

Sprouting vessel

There are 3 main ways to sprout wheatgrass seed.

  1. Bags - Using a sprouting bag makes the sprouting phase extra simple. Rinsing is also straightforward and can be done without transferring seeds. Some people soak their wheat seeds in the bag as well. You can put soaked seeds directly into the sprouting bag and rinse for 15 to 20 seconds with cool water before hanging the bag over the sink or a bowl out of direct sunlight for 16-24 hours, at which point they should all be sprouting.
  2. Mason jar method - When using a mason jar to sprout seeds, the best type of jar is a wide-mouth type with a two-part lid so that you take just the rim and use it to hold a piece of cheesecloth in place. You can also purchase a mesh lid for this purpose. You can soak the seeds in the jar, then rinse and set the jar at an angle, lid side down to drain.
  3. Sprouting kits - There are also excellent sprouting kits on the market that make sprouting as easy as possible by providing the right level of ventilation, humidification, and warmth for germination.

Note: My personal growing recommendations are to use a sprouting bag for germination and soilless mix (I like coconut coir with vermiculite) for growing. The bag takes up little space and makes rinsing easy, and this particular mix is sterile and then is easily composted later– a big plus for anyone with a garden!

Different growing methods: Soil vs Soilless

There is no right or wrong way to grow wheatgrass, although some methods suit different situations better than others. How people choose to grow wheatgrass is mostly a matter of personal preference. 

The general rule for growing wheatgrass is that one cup of seeds is enough to cover a 10x10 inch tray and will yield around 10 ounces of wheatgrass juice. Assuming that you’ve already sprouted your wheat seeds using one of the methods above, the next step is putting them into the medium where they will grow.

Growing in Soil

Note that this method applies to potting soil, compost, or other soil-containing planting mixes specifically. 

1. Add soil to your growing container

Place one half to one inch of potting mix into your growing container–for a 10x10 inch tray you’ll use three to four cups of soil. Once it’s in the tray, moisten it thoroughly, but not to excess. If there is any water pooling in the tray, you’ve overwatered.  

2. Add wheat seeds to soil

Spread seeds evenly over the surface of the soil in an even, thin layer. You may want to give them one final rinse to make sure they are full of moisture. You can gently press the seeds into the surface of the soil, but it is not necessary.

3. Cover the container

Wheat seeds need darkness to be tricked into believing they are below the surface of the soil. Use a cover that allows a bit of airflow while providing darkness. Ideally, your container should be set in an area that receives bright, indirect light. Some people choose to cover their container with a few sheets of moistened newspaper to protect, humidify, and shade their seeds. 

4. Watering

In the beginning, you should water the seeds twice a day, just misting the top of the soil surface lightly with a spray bottle. The purpose of this watering is to keep the seeds moist to help them get their roots into the soil and established. Whatever you do, the most important thing is to not overwater.   

5. Uncover and wait

Once your wheatgrass sprouts are about an inch tall (in three to five days), you can uncover them and let them experience the glory of growing in the open air. At this point, direct sunlight will benefit the grass. 

6. Harvest

As soon as your wheatgrass plants have grown to six inches tall, check to see if the plants have “split,” or sent out secondary shoots from the first shoots. Most growers find that their wheatgrass is ready to harvest after 10 days of growth.

wheatgrass juice in shot glass

Growing without Soil

Note that this method applies to coconut coir, vermiculite, or peat moss growing mixes that do not use any soil.

1. Add medium to your growing container

Place one half to one inch of potting mix into your growing container–for a 10x10 inch tray you’ll use three cups of growing medium. Vermiculite will take one quart of water, but coir should already be moist from the process of crumbling and hydrating it to prepare it and should be moist but not wet. 

2. Add wheat seeds to growing medium

Spread seeds evenly over the surface of the medium in an even, thin layer. You may want to give them one final rinse beforehand to make sure they are nice and moist. You can gently press the seeds into the surface of the medium, but it is not necessary.

3. Cover the container

Wheat seeds need darkness to be tricked into believing they are below the surface of the soil. Use a cover that allows a bit of airflow while providing darkness. Ideally, your container should be set in an area that receives bright, indirect light but remains at room temperature. Some people choose to cover their container with a few sheets of moistened newspaper to protect, humidify, and shade their seeds. 

4. Watering

When growing in a soilless medium, it can be helpful to add a little liquid kelp fertilizer to the water you irrigate with. In the beginning, you should water the seeds twice a day, misting the top of the soil surface lightly with a spray bottle. The purpose of watering is keeping seeds moist to help them get their roots into the soil and established and to provide them with some nutrients. Whatever you do, the most important thing is not to overwater.   

5. Uncover and wait

Once your wheatgrass sprouts are about an inch tall (in three to five days), you can uncover them and let them experience the glory of growing in the open air. At this point, direct sunlight will benefit the grass.

6. Harvest

As soon as your wheatgrass plants have grown to six inches tall, check to see if the plants have “split,” or sent out secondary shoots from the first shoots. Most growers find that their wheatgrass is ready to harvest after ten days of growth. 

Growing on a Fiber Mat

1. Prepare your tray

Cut your growing mat to fit perfectly inside the growing tray. Moisten the mat as the instructions specific to your product indicate. Usually, this calls for a short soak to hydrate the mat fully, but make sure it is just moist, not soggy. 

2. Add wheat seeds to the growing surface

Spread seeds evenly over the surface of the mat in an even, thin layer. You may want to give them one final rinse beforehand to make sure they are nice and moist. 

3. Cover the container

As with the other methods, the seeds need to believe they are beneath the surface of the soil and will respond best to three to five days under cover. You can use another tray or a few sheets of moistened newspaper placed over the container. 

4. Watering 

When growing on a fiber mat, it can be helpful to add a little liquid kelp fertilizer to the water you irrigate with. In the beginning, you should water the seeds twice a day, misting the top of the soil surface lightly with a spray bottle. The goal of this is just to get the roots to grow into the mat so that the wheatgrass can establish itself. Fiber mats can dry out more quickly than other mediums, so it is important to pay attention to moisture levels and adjust watering volume and frequency accordingly. 

5. Uncover and wait

Once your wheatgrass sprouts are about an inch tall (in three to five days), you can uncover them and let them experience the glory of growing in the open air. At this point, direct sunlight will benefit the grass. 

6. Harvest

As soon as your wheatgrass plants have grown to six inches tall, check to see if the plants have “split,” or sent out secondary shoots from the first shoots. Most growers find that their wheatgrass is ready to harvest after 10 days of growth.

How to harvest

With a sharp pair of scissors, cut grass just above the surface of the growing medium. A quarter cup of grass will make a one-ounce serving of wheatgrass juice. It is possible to sure wheatgrass for later use in the fridge, but it is best used fresh. Interestingly, many wheatgrass growers are able to get a second harvest from their containers if they simply continue to care for their shorn plants.

How to use Wheatgrass

The best way to juice wheatgrass is using a masticating juicer, and there are plenty of juicers designed just for wheatgrass. If you don’t have such a juicer, you can toss your harvest into a food processor and grind it up and then strain it through cheesecloth. It is also possible to use a dehydrator to dry your harvest, grind it into powder and then use as you would any powdered green supplement. 

Problems with growing Wheatgrass

During the establishing period, mold and fungus pose the most significant threat to your plants. If your growing area is over 75 degrees, you may want to use a fan to help with air circulation to discourage the stagnant conditions that can lead to mold or fungus growth. 

Once plants are growing, if they go from green to yellow, it is a sign that they are in need of light, nutrients, or that they’ve been over or under-watered. If they are over six inches, they may have gone too long before harvesting. 

Conclusion

Because the process of growing wheatgrass is easy and fast, starting over if you get it wrong isn’t too much of a hassle. Whether you’re a devoted juice fanatic or just have a curiosity about this superfood, growing wheatgrass at home should be a fun and rewarding adventure in indoor agriculture. 

Resources

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4678994
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26156538
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20508870
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25116122